In the spirit of March Madness, we’ve decided to create our own Sweet Sixteen bracket to find out who (or what) you think should be DC’s 2014 champion. Culled from a rather large author submitted list, these sixteen contestants represent the heart and soul (and headslaps) of our fair city. We’ve randomly paired them up in eight killer match ups where you get to decide who makes it to the Elite Eight. Voting goes until tomorrow night (the 27th at 12am) with the next round opening up on the 28th.
#1 The DC Music Scene: The 9:30 Club, Black Cat (mainstage and red room), DC9, Rock N’ Hotel, U Street Music Hall, Gypsy Sally’s, Patty Boom Boom, Echo Stage, Flash, DAR, The Hamilton….I could and should go on but there are just WAY too many awesome DC music venues to list. You want an intimate show? You got it. You want a sell out ~20,000 person experience? Done. You want to get your dancing sweat on in a darkish, light parade? Boom! And it’s not just that they’re great places to see music, it’s that they bring in an utterly fantastic array of acts. On any given night, there are nationally known groups, up-and-comers, awesome cover bands and true indie artists showing us their stuff. What. To. Choose?!!!! Did I mention that the venues have awesome food and drink, and that they’re staff are some of the coolest people in DC?
#16 Swachos at American Ice Company: The concept is a simple one, but it’s the execution that makes this salty bar favorite into something that I crave. The house-made queso is rich but not too thick, the jalapeños are spicy, but not overwhelming, and the house pickle brine they’re steeped in has just the right balance of sugar and vinegar to bring out their playful flavor. And then the pork. Oh the pork. The shredded pork is the king’s crown atop this marvelous plate. Wash it down with a DC Brau Citizen and a Bulleit Rye pickleback, and you have my favorite bar meal in the entirety of the city on a warm spring day on their patio. This is a reminder that simple can be good all on its own, when executed with diligence and care.
#8 Capital Weather Gang: This gang of weather nerds is the area’s go-to team for (mostly) accurate news and information on the region’s weather. Actually, it’s really one guy surrounded by a bunch of weather-loving people – but to us, they’re the Gang. They do their own forecasts, analyze models, insert physics, and use their own knowledge in formulating forecasts that are more often than not, right on target. They update their blog on WaPo with reader photos and comments, stay on top of updates during big weather events, and are highly interactive. They’re clear without being condescending; they answer all your questions without your even asking. They tell you what they know and what they don’t. They know they’re not perfect and aren’t afraid to admit when they’re wrong. Best of all? They show you how the science is relevant and uncover its beauty for all to enjoy.
#9 George Pelecanos Novels: If you like crime fiction you’re familiar with how authors have their own “beats” just like reporters do. The best ones make their standard locales as much a part of the story as the plot and characters. Carl Hiassen captures the inanity of my birth state of Florida perfectly. Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, really made you feel upstate New York as a setting. James Ellroy’s work is in L.A. because it wouldn’t work anywhere else. George Pelecanos does the same for the District, putting his characters into the region and capturing the feel of people who commit or are caught up by crime in our city’s unique mix. Extreme workaholics participating in governance that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the country are steps away from common family despair that lives everywhere. Pelecanos paints the city in ways that aren’t always happy or flattering but at least we can see ourselves there, unlike movies or tv that show us as, well, Vancouver.
#3 Marion Barry: Hizzoner. The Mayor for Life. Marion Barry has many titles, both official and unofficial, but he’s the elder statesman of the council – for good or for ill – and his lifetime of service to the District can’t be ignored. From his time spent at the helm of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, to being shot during a hostage situation at the District building, to his unfortunate brush with the FBI in 1989, the conflicted nature of Barry’s relationship to the city makes him an integral part of the city’s history. I’ve come to respect Barry’s history, despite being frustrated with his constant brush with the law, and recognize him to be a valued voice among many in the District.
#14 Lauriol Plaza: There is better Mexican food and there are better margaritas, but playing hooky from work to go sit on the Lauriol Plaza patio and people watch is a NW DC tradition. When I first moved here in the 90′s my roommate – who grew up in Texas – made sure we went for margaritas and enchiladas on a nice day, while being apologetic that it wasn’t quite the standard to which I was accustomed. New entrants Masa 14, El Chucho, and El Ray may yet unseat it as the pinnacle of outdoor margaritas, but Lauriol Plaza’s longevity means it can never be counted out.
#6 Half Smoke at Ben’s: The half smoke, DC’s own sui generis special hotdog, is a marvel, but cover it in lightly spicy chili, with yellow mustard and white onions and you have this amazing diner classic that has dominated the DC food landscape for decades. Having it at the counter at Ben’s on U Street (there is really only one Ben’s, despite what the marquee says in Arlington and at National), with the happiest staff in DC’s restaurants putting on the best of a show? There are few DC things I love so much as going to see Mo and his cadre of amazing people behind the counter. The best part? they’ve all got perfect pitch, and they’re not afraid to sing along with the classic R&B jukebox there. Sit at the bar. Get some cheese fries to go with. You will regret nothing.
#11 Zoolights: Winter can be a brutal season in DC, but it doesn’t have to be without hope. This past December, on a night that was 60 degrees if it was a degree, we wandered down from Cleveland Park to the Zoo to experience Zoolights. The annual display, often bankrolled by Pepco and other sponsors of local provenance, is a joyful wonderland of lights. The animals are in their dens, and so you can wander the zoo’s paths and see fields and fields of LED lights, sip on a hot chocolate, or go into see various exhibits inside. The music, the lights, it’s all a great part of winter in the city.
#5 Annual DC Sports Playoff Collapse: An annual classic, the [insert DC sports team name here] playoff collapse is something to be expected these days. No matter the sport, DC teams have turned the playoffs into a perennial exercise in fan keep-away. Will they or won’t they? Can the Caps cobble together a solid defense and take the Stanley Cup? Can the Nats string together consistent play to rise to the World Series? Is it possible the Washington pro football team can brush off the curse of its moniker and find its way back to the Lombardi Trophy? What the hell’s up with DC United, anyway? Someone mentioned the Wizards are on a roll; just wait, they’ll implode at the height of their playoff success, too. It’s inevitable around here. DC pro sports and fan disappointment go hand-in-hand like Metro and escalator breakdowns; we’re used to our bitter tears to the point it’s become a forgone conclusion every single year.
#12: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington: Considered Frank Capra’s best film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is all about one man making a difference in the big, bad world. Specifically, Washington. While a pleasant notion, in the modern day of partisanship, government gridlock, constant tantrum-throwing on the Hill, and congressional greed, the film is more a fantasy than reality. Still, it’s a great story with the likeable Jimmy Stewart as our plucky underdog, who fights the system and wins through the power of filibuster. For those of us steeped in the morass leaking from the Hill and the West Wing, it’s a pipe dream that reminds us of what could be…
#4 Food Trucks: Long gone are the days when lunch meant the same old deli/buffet or chain sandwich shop offerings day in and day out. Food trucks have taken over. Literally, have you seen Franklin Park at noon? These culinary delights on wheels bring street food fare from all corners of the world, giving us sweet sweet access to arepas, kabobs, lobster rolls, decadent mac n’ cheese, ice cream sandwiches, curries and beyond. Food trucks make lunch an ever changing adventure, as you never quite know what your options are until you roll up to the various food truck congregation points, see the players and make your elections. This is an invaluable source of inspiration and elan during the work week that keep your spirits and/or tastebuds alive. Lunch will never be the same in DC.
#13 Dave Kovic: Kevin Kline’s Dave Kovic is the President we all wish would step into office. Full of optimism and charm, he represents a fantasy that will never, ever hold true around here. He’s the everyday man we all believe ourselves to be, put in a position to make a difference and stand against the tide of bureaucratic crap and ineffectiveness – and wins! He gets away with a major felony, busts congressional logjam, and gets the girl – who happens to be the First Lady. What’s not to like?
#7 The Hill’s 50 Most Beautiful People: It’s a list we all love to mock. Full of self-love and self-absorption, this annual list put out by The Hill is the quientissential “love to hate” event of a DC summer. Because we all want to see the winners of the genetic lottery who parade their airbrushed lives in front of us, flouting that they’re not only better looking than us, they also have better lives and make more money, too. The great thing is, this list is a cathartic way for us ordinary folk to find 50 ways to lay on the snark.
#10 Repeal Day Ball: While true credit for the idea goes to Portland’s Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the DC Craft Bartender’s Guild’s annual Repeal Day Ball was the first big party to run with the idea of celebrating the country’s native drinking holiday. DC’s best and brightest bartenders dress up in their finest formal wear and throw a revel to equal the last parties thrown before Prohibition became ill-advised law.
#2 Schneider’s: Convenient to the Capitol (duh), Union Station, and all the residential neighborhoods that make up the Hill, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill is one of DC’s oldest and finest liquor stores. Whether it’s a bottle of wine for a party or a bottle of whisky for your best client (or favorite congressman or woman), the staff will guide you to an excellent bottle. What’s more, like all good liquor stores they deliver.
#14 National Gallery of Art: A perennial powerhouse, the National Gallery isn’t just one of the finest museums in DC, it’s one of the finest in the world. It’s easy to lose yourself in the West Wing’s (no, not THAT West Wing) collection of Dutch masters, although my favorite works in the building are the Rodin sculptures. Ride through the tunnel to the East Wing and take in a Matisse and some Calder mobiles and you’ve got yourself a lovely day. This year’s news sees the National Gallery potentially taking over the Corcoran’s collection (subject to approvals, of course) so expect a higher seed next year if that goes well (and if we repeat this idea).